23 November 2008

Vatican forgives Lennon and praises The Beatles

The Vatican has finally forgiven John Lennon for declaring that 'The Beatles' were "more famous than Jesus Christ". 42 years after the iconic leader of the world-famous Liverpool music group made the unguarded remark in an interview with a British newspaper, the Vatican and his music-loving ruler Pope Benedict XVI have decided to be no longer officially offended by it.

Yesterday's edition of the Vatican's official newspaper L'Osservatore Romano carried an unusual article. On the feast day of St. Cecilia, the patron saint of music and musicians, a papal journalist was writing about 'The Beatles' and in particular their famous 'White Album', which was released 40 years ago.

In the paper's cultural section a large illustrated article, which covers half a page, deals with the subject in great length and detail.
The author commends 'The Beatles' for "their unique and strange alchemy of sounds and words".

"The talent of John Lennon and the other Beatles gave us some of the best pages in modern pop music," the article states.
Only "snobs" would dismiss the Beatles' songs, which had shown "great musical skill and inspiration".

After heaping more praise on 'The Beatles', in a way never before heard or read from an official source of the Vatican, the article concludes that "the fact remains that now, 38 years after breaking up, the songs of the Lennon-McCartney brand have shown an extraordinary resistance to the passage of time, becoming a source of inspiration for more than one generation of pop musicians."

The now 40-year-old 'White Album' the Vatican author calls "a masterpiece" and remarks that it is "a musical utopia where you will find everything, and the opposite of everything".

He then proceeds even further into new cultural territory and absolves John Lennon of his notorious remark, saying that "after so many years it sounds merely like the boasting of an English working-class lad struggling to cope with unexpected success".

It was back in March 1966 that John Lennon (left) made his famous - for some infamous - statement in an interview with the London Evening Standard.

"Christianity will go," he told a reporter. "It will vanish and shrink. We [The Beatles] are more popular than Jesus now - I don't know which will go first, rock and roll or Christianity. Jesus was alright, but his disciples were thick and ordinary. It's them twisting it that ruins it for me."

The boast provoked widespread outrage, particularly in the United States, where conservative 'Christians' burned piles of 'Beatles' albums in public. The band received death threats and many radio stations, particularly in the Southern states, stopped playing 'Beatles' records altogether.

More than a decade later John Lennon said that he was glad of the furore he had caused.
"My life with 'The Beatles' had become a trap," he wrote in 1978.
"I always remember to thank Jesus for the end of my touring days. If I hadn't said that 'The Beatles' were 'bigger than Jesus' and upset the very Christian Ku Klux Klan, well, Lord, I might still be up there with all the other performing fleas! God bless America. Thank you, Jesus!"

Two years later Lennon was murdered by a fanatic in New York.

For all the years after John Lennon's statement - and after his untimely death - the Vatican had kept silent and ignored the matter completely. So it comes as quite a surprise that the Holy See is now giving him, 'The Beatles' and their still popular music so much space and attention in its official newspaper.

We do of course not know the specific reason for this change of attitude, but it is well known that Pope Benedict XVI is a great music enthusiast, as well as an accomplished musician himself. (The first time I ever met him - then a young theology professor called Joseph Ratzinger who visited my grandfather - he played a few very nice pieces on the piano for us. I was only five years old then, but I still remember it well.)

Although the Pope has a personal preference for Mozart and Beethoven, it is quite possible that he does listen to 'The Beatles' as well from time to time. And despite the still prevalent opinion that he is a very conservative man, many of the decisions he made since his election have been quite progressive and surprised many observers.

About a year ago he appointed the Roman historian, writer and journalist Prof. Giovanni Maria Vian as new editor-in-chief of L'Osservatore Romano, and ever since the Vatican newspaper has become a lot more open and readable for people outside the Catholic hierarchy. Under Prof. Vian's editorship one can - beside the usual and official articles on theology and church matters - now find a lot of secular subjects covered as well, for example popular culture events such as the 'Oscars' and - yesterday - 'The Beatles'.

From time to time Prof. Vian is now also inviting articles from Muslim and Jewish contributors and has certainly widened the scope of his newspaper immensely. However, this would not be possible without the backing of his publisher - the Pope.

It appears that Pope Benedict XVI (right), who began his theological career as a progressive and was actively involved in the discussions of the Second Vatican Council, is returning to his personal and also ideological roots and now shedding gradually the strict conservatism he acquired during his time as theology professor in Regensburg (Ratisbon) and later as the chief ideologist and enforcer of church discipline under the very conservative Pope John Paul II.

In contrast to his predecessor, who came from the strict and rigidly conservative background of the Catholic Church in Poland, Joseph Ratzinger - Pope Benedict XVI - is a product of Upper Bavaria and its rather liberal and uncomplicated tradition of Catholic Baroque.
This becomes ever more obvious the longer his papacy lasts, and now even John Lennon and 'The Beatles' are receiving the benefit of his open mind.

The Emerald Islander

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